A city council committee has given its approval to a major upgrade of the ethical conduct policy for council members, which includes new rules for accepting gifts.
Under the direction of ethics advisor Alice Woolley, several existing policies are being brought under the umbrella of a single ethical conduct policy.
It’s still a relatively new concept for city council.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters on Tuesday that the existing policy was developed after he was elected mayor in 2010.
“It was very, very important for me to do it in my first term because I was shocked that council didn’t have a code,” said Nenshi.
It included a real estate and financial disclosure for the elected members. But Nenshi always considered it a first draft
Last December, Woolley requested that council allow her to develop a revised policy.
She was concerned the current policy was unclear on some questions, not comprehensive and wasn’t co-ordinated with other city policies.
Her hope is that the revised policy will provide better direction to elected officials.
“So it’s not quite one-stop shopping, but it should be something which at least gives you a road map for where you have to look next,” Woolley said.
Plan to declare all gifts
One of the key changes from current policies relates to gifts that council members can accept.
Currently, elected officials can accept gifts, and if they’re over $150 in value, they must be publicly disclosed.
The proposed changes spell out whom gifts can be accepted from and that gifts must be disclosed regardless of their value.
That disclosure must include a description or picture of the gift.
Nenshi said the ethics advisor felt there “might be too many loopholes” in the existing policy so this will tighten up the gift rules.
New gifts policy has pros and cons
Coun. Ward Sutherland said dropping the dollar value threshold for reporting will mean some benefits but could create other problems.
“We were spending a significant time, staff time, trying to figure out how much things cost,” said Sutherland.
But he wonders if the new policy could be seen as arbitrary if there isn’t a verifiable value to an item.
Woolley said no one should be spending time searching the value of a gift unless it’s readily found.
She said the main point is the disclosure of the gift itself, and it frees up council members from labouring over a search for the value of something.
The new policy spells out that any violations are to be reported to the city’s integrity commissioner, Allen Sulatycky, who will investigate the complaints.
The city’s integrity and ethics office proposes to undertake an annual review of the ethical conduct policy for council members to ensure that it stays current.
With the approval at council’s priorities and finance committee on Tuesday, city council as a whole will examine the amended rules later this month.